Amazing Stories | Amazing People - Sandhya Kerehalli - India

Engineering Brighter Futures


If you travel just a few hundred meters from the high-rises of modern Bangalore, you'll find the modest Kadubeesanahalli Government School. The primary-grade students there may live in the shadow of India's own gleaming version of Silicon Valley, but they hardly enjoy the opportunities of students in much richer private schools.

It's a sharp reminder that despite the benefits so many have experienced with our increased connectedness, the digital divide stubbornly persists.

"Bangalore is a city of stark contrasts," says Sandhya Kerehalli, a Cisco software engineer who's on the front lines in the effort to close the gap in her community. She was fortunate enough to receive a quality education and is deeply committed to helping those who aren't as lucky.

"I feel very fortunate to have had opportunities in life and my education, so I feel compelled to give back," Sandhya says.

Sandhya is the Corporate Social Responsibility lead for her business unit, where she’s involved with testing our switching software.

Sandhya personifies one of the foundations of our Cisco culture to "benefit everyone," but merely getting involved was not enough for her. She's the corporate social responsibility lead for her business unit, where she tests our switching software before it's released. Beyond that, she is deeply committed on a personal level to not just one but two local efforts that help underprivileged students bridge the digital divide.

One of these efforts is a school intervention program supported by Cisco and the non-profit organization Step Up for India in which Cisco business units or functional teams adopt local schools. Employees teach classes in English, computer sciences and other subjects, as well as securing donations for technology equipment and other resources.

Our employees have adopted six area schools, but the program had stalled at the Kadubeesanahalli Government School. Sandhya stepped up as the lead for this school and has revitalized the effort.

"It's been her enthusiasm and energy that has brought people to the program," says Shyam Kaluve, Sandhya's mentor and a Cisco director of Enterprise Routing Software Engineering.

It's paying off. Children leaving the school are better equipped to enter the higher grades, where studies are more rigorous and classes are taught in English rather than the native Kannada used in primary grades. "The program gives the students confidence," says Sandhya, who has been with Cisco for 13 years. "And the interaction with Cisco people shows the children that there are people who truly care. I love spending time with kids and I'm constantly taken aback by their curiosity." Sandhya says. "They are so enthusiastic that it rubs off on me. I feel like the lucky one."

The satisfaction Sandhya gets from giving back is one of the wonderful things about volunteering, according to Kirstin Weeks, Cisco's director of Global Community Relations. "Local volunteering is a symbiotic relationship. It helps make our communities grow stronger, but it also helps our people gain new perspectives, develop leadership skills, and work better as a team," Weeks says.

Along with technology donations and non-profit cash granting, volunteering is one of three foundational legs of our Corporate Social Responsibility approach. We reciprocate with matching funds for every hour our employees volunteer. Our employees volunteered more than 136,000 hours in our last fiscal year, according to Weeks.

“Giving back has been a deep part of our corporate culture since the beginning of our company.”
- Sandhya Kerehalli

As if taking a lead role in the school intervention program wasn't enough, Sandya also mentors a female college student pursuing a career in engineering through a program supported by two other non-profits, Mentor Together and Foundation for Excellence. Sandhya has been meeting once or twice weekly for nearly a year with her mentee for academic, career and life coaching.

When she's not working or volunteering, Sandhya enjoys getting outside to explore nature and take photos.

"Sandhya is an extremely empathetic person and a great listener," says Mentor Together's COO Namrata Baruah. "She's warm, resourceful, and has a zeal to learn new things."

Helped by Sandhya's guidance, her mentee has already earned a job offer. "It's been a fantastic relationship, and one of the most rewarding in my life," says Sandhya. "We're more like friends now than mentor and mentee."

According to Kaluve, Sandhya is a perfect example of spirit of volunteerism. "She is always looking to make a difference," Kaluve says. "More importantly, she finds happiness in someone else's success, and that's what volunteering is all about. She was giddy with excitement over her mentee's job placement, as if she had gotten the job herself."

For Sandhya, it all comes down to doing her part to close the digital divide. "I'm keenly aware of the blessings I have as an educated professional," she explains. "I believe it's up to me and people like me to help others, especially when it comes to helping young people prepare for the modern world."

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